Every day, a woman dressed in red from head to toe stands in Tehran’s Ferdowsi Square, seemingly waiting for someone.
This strange scene takes place daily between 6pm and 7pm. The young lady in red always stands in the same spot, in the northwest corner of the square. This is in fact a performance art piece, which, with the authorities’ approval, has been going on for nearly three months now. The lady in red, played by volunteers, is not always alone - on October 13, about 40 ladies in red spread all over the square.
Photo posted on the Facebook group Lady in Red.
The event is promoted on Facebook under the title “Lady in Red, Reperformance.” The idea is to bring back to life one of the capital’s local legends. As the story goes, in the 1960s and 1970s, a woman with a bony, weathered face, who always wore make-up, stood in Ferdowki Square from dawn to dusk. This lasted for two decades. Everything she wore was red: her bag, her shoes, her socks, her skirt – and of course the rose she always carried around. Toward the end of her life, she added a red veil and a red cane. Because of her expression, passers-by believed she was waiting for someone who she expected to show up at any minute.
Tara is a student in Tehran.
I first heard the story a long time ago, probably from my mum. The legend says that a lady had a rendez-vous with her beloved in Ferdowsi Square, but he never showed up. People called her Yaqut, meaning ‘ruby’. My dad says he always saw her on his way to school as a boy. Some say she was last seen around 1981 or 1982.
I had almost forgotten about this story until I heard about this performance. A friend called me and asked if she could borrow my red shoes. She played the Lady in Red for one day. Looking through the event’s Facebook page, I realised that many of my friends, mostly theatre students, had played the Lady in Red, too. Some stood silent, others spoke to people, and others even handed out red roses.
I did some research, and found an interview of the Lady in Red dating back to 1976. The interviewer says to her, ‘They say you’re waiting for someone…’ Yaqut quickly replies: ‘That’s a lie.’
The Lady in Red is a symbol for love in Tehran, and these days, people think about all sorts of things when they think of Tehran – but not love. So I thought this performance piece was a great idea. The only problem is that some of the performers made the whole thing look a bit over-sentimental – and Yaqut, in an interview, said: ‘In love? No … It’s no good to say that you’re in love.’ So that somewhat reduced the pleasantness of their presence.”
“Men in uniforms interrupted us several times”
Mariam (not her real name) is one of the ‘Ladies in Red’ volunteers.
The performance was officially sanctioned, and the artist who directed it used two cameras to film it. However many people came up to us to ask if we had been given authorisation, and men in uniforms interrupted us several times.
People were very curious, even intimidated. Some people, however, filmed us and took photos of us. Many local residents congratulated us for bringing this story they had so often heard back to life, but others, men mostly, didn’t seem to appreciate it much.”